REVIEW: “LaGuardia” by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

I’m always on the lookout for new comics. I don’t follow the industry particularly closely, so a lot of titles slipped my attention. But I kept hearing about Nnedi Okorafor’s LaGuardia. It was part of Dark Horse Comics’ Berger Books imprint, a line of titles spearheaded by Karen Berger of Vertigo Comics fame – an editor whose work I’ve adored. It was a sci-fi comic that imagined an alternate Earth where aliens had integrated themselves among humanity – a premise that’s right up my alley. And it just won Eisner and Hugo Awards. So, I finally read it. And, man, it’s good. While I wish it was a bit longer, LaGuardia is a superb read. Featuring gorgeous artwork and intriguing world-building, it’s reflective of our current societal problems and a wildly captivating read. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review may contain spoilers.)

LaGuardia (written by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford)
In an alternate world where aliens have integrated with society, pregnant Nigerian-American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has just smuggled an illegal alien plant named Letme Live through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport…and that’s not the only thing she’s hiding.

She and Letme become part of a community of human and alien immigrants; but as their crusade for equality continues and the birth of her child nears, Future—and her entire world—begins to change.

LaGuardia follows Future, a heavily-pregnant Nigerian-American woman, who smuggles an alien plantform, Letme Live, out of Nigeria and into America to protect them from an ongoing war between various plantforms. Upon arriving at LaGuardia Airport, Future encounters an America that is both prejudiced against and hostile to alien life-forms – in addition to America’s seemingly endless prejudice against people of color. Future returns to her grandmother’s home and settles down in America with Letme Live. And from there, we witness America’s descent into fear.

The rhetoric used against the aliens in LaGuardia is intentionally similar to that used against immigrants and people of color in America today. There are anti-alien protests, travel bans to and from countries with high alien populations, and various businesses and establishments with a strong anti-alien bias. I found this approach to alien immigration deeply fascinating and depressingly realistic. For as much as we’d like to think we’d welcome aliens with open arms, we wouldn’t. Something like this is exactly what we’d do and it was fascinating to see a comic explorer that idea in such detail.

I would honestly read several more comics featuring Okorafor’s alien politics. Her worldbuilding in LaGuardia was beyond fascinating; it’s my favorite aspect of the story. She doesn’t overwhelm with exposition; instead, she chooses to drop readers into this living and breathing world and have us piece together all that is happening. It’s a great way to convey the exposition while getting audiences invested in the sociopolitical climate of the comic. I loved every piece of the conflict she provided even if I wanted more of it. I love science fiction politics, whether they’re hopeful or whether they’re bleak, and I loved what LaGuardia had to say about our current sociopolitical climate in America.

Unfortunately, I found the plot and most of the character development a bit less successful. Now, to be fair, the plot is intriguing enough, with there being a bit of a mystery involving why Future left Nigeria and her fiance, and what’s going on with her child, but much of that gets rushed in the story’s four issues. There’s just not enough room in these issues to explore everything that Okorafor wants to, so some things get a bit rushed. There’s not a great sense of the passage of time and a few subplots aren’t explored anywhere near as thoroughly as I like – namely those involving some of the aliens Future’s grandmother houses and the one involving Citizen, Future’s fiance. The same is true for much of the character work. Future’s arc is solid, but almost everyone else also suffers from this lack of time with which to develop them. Now, neither of these problems comes close to ruining the comic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I found its message powerful and its world so interesting and well-built that these problems registered as mere speed bumps – but they’re worth mentioning. With a few extra issues, I think they could have been solved. But such is life.

The artwork, drawn by Tana Ford and colored by James Devlin, is beautiful. Ford creates an engaging world that’s a perfect blend of alien and familiar. Locales are immediately recognizable and the alien design is as varied as human life is. Her artwork makes Okorafor’s world feel as alive as it reads. Devlin’s colors are the final piece of this puzzle. The colors are vibrant and pop off the page, imbuing Ford’s art with that final breath of life. Combined, the artwork is simply gorgeous. It deftly facilitates the understanding of the comic’s story while being beautiful to behold.

Ultimately, LaGuardia is a great read. Its short issue count hurts it a little bit, limiting the room it has to fully develop its plot and characters, but the world created by Okorafor is one well worth visiting. It presents a mirror to our modern society, transplanting our current prejudices onto alien beings. At times, it is depressingly realistic, but there is an aura of hope that emanates throughout. LaGuardia is a must-read for all sci-fi and comic fans and is a delight from start to finish.

4 out of 5 wands.

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